Tag Archives: Fiction

Books: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch was another one of my summer reading pleasures. Donna Tartt, creates an almost Dickensian world of loss, friendship, criminality and redemption with the world of  art, and the love of old and well crafted things as its backdrop.

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The story is told from the point of view of Theodore Decker, a thirteen year old boy whose mother dies in a terrorist attack while they’re visiting the art museum. Theodore’s mother has a passion for art which she shares with her son.  Before leaving the ruined museum, he meets “Welty” who gives him a ring and somehow signals to him to take The Goldfinch, a beautiful painting by the 17th century dutch painter Carel Fabritius.   The Goldfinch is a rendering  of a small bird, chained to its perch. The horrifying notion of a beautiful but chained bird becomes a driving metaphor for life throughout the book.

Theodore’s life is destroyed by the loss of his mother and as he tumbles down the rabbit hole of loss and grief, the painting he has taken is the one thing that gives him a reason to live. The calmness he feels when he holds the painting gets him through his worst times.

The book is a study on how we create family when its taken from you. First Theodore lands at the Barbours, a wealthy, deeply eccentric family of his friend Andy. When his less than perfect father and his girlfriend come to claim him, off he goes to Las Vegas where he is left mostly to his own devices while his father and his girlfriend gamble to earn their living.

One of the parts of the book I love the most is when he meets Boris, a young boy his age whose mother is also dead and whose father is a violent, crazy, Ukrainian drunk who works in mines all over the world. The two boys spend their days playing truant, drinking, doing drugs and embarking on a life of petty crime.

Tartt captures the authenticity of adolescent friendship  that feels real and funny and sad at the same time.

The boys eventually separate when Theo heads back to New York but it’s the unlikely ups and downs of this friendship that drives the second half of the book. The painting goes missing and the two re-unite to find it.

In between, of course, there is so much more. Theo finds a home with Hobie, the partner of Welty, and learns the world of antiques. None of the friendship and safety offered by Hobie stops Theo’s descent into addiction and criminal wrong-doing. Ultimately he has to decide if he’s going to live or die and in the end, like the life of the goldfinch, he has to make peace with his lot in life.

I loved he book but thought it was too long in sections. My husband read the book and said the word I fear most “Shantaram” a book he detested for its long-windedness. I would agree that this book could have used a good edit. Still, it was a great world to be a part of and I loved how art was upheld as a necessary outcome and reflection of the human experience.

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The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante

It took me more than a year (possibly two) but I finished all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Normally I can’t do that but each one of these books is compelling on its own and it leaves you wondering…what ever happens to the complicated friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo. And off I would go to get the next book…until finally at last I finished it with the last book in the series The Story of the Lost Child which still leaves you wondering.

By way of background the novels are set in Naples, Italy and they span the lifetime of two young girls who grow up together in the rough and tumble Naples of the 50s. Both are bright young girls but only Elena is able to continue her education through university. The beautiful, street smart and equally intelligent Lila stops going to school by grade 5 and survives by building a business for herself.

The novel is about friendship of course, and all the difficulties and the beauty that come with it. But the sprawling novels are also about social change, politics, violence, domestic violence and how staying ahead, even of those we love, is an act of survival. The competitive nature of the friendship between Elena and Lila is also about poverty and what happens when you have to fight for every scrap of recognition in a world that is hard for everyone. And yet it is friendship that binds.

In the end the novel(s) don’t offer any answers… what happened to Lila, what happened to her daughter, what was she writing, why did she disappear? Here is a woman who devoted herself to fighting gangsters in her unruly neighbourhood, who devoted herself in the end to learning everything about Naples…understanding her city inside and out and then leaving.

These books are less linear narrative then they are impressionistic art…paint thrown on a canvas of love, hatred, political structures, friendship, family…and the result is an ode to Naples. Lila Cerullo represents beauty, intelligence, history, politics, rough and tumble love, and a deep sense of right and wrong in a hard world.

I loved these books. You’ start with one not be able to stop until you’ve finished all four!

 

 

 

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